So the government gave sports grants to marginal seats. What happens now?


Maria O’Sullivan, Monash University

When Australians pay their income tax, they assume the money is going to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government to shore up votes for the next election.

This is why the findings of the Australian National Audit Office into the awarding of community sporting grants by cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie are serious. Not merely for the grant funding process, but also for trust in our system of government.

What did the report find?

The Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program was established in 2018 to ensure more Australians have access to quality sporting facilities, encouraging greater community participation in sport and physical activity.

The Audit Office was asked to examine this grant program to assess whether the award of funding “was informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice”. The focus was therefore on whether proper procedures were followed.

The report was extremely critical of the way in which the A$100 million in sporting grants were awarded by Minister McKenzie ahead of last year’s election campaign.

It found successful applications were “not those that had been assessed as the most meritorious” and that there was “distributional bias” in the way projects were approved. The problem is many of the grants were awarded to bodies within marginal seats or seats the Coalition wanted to win.

This is a serious matter because it represents a politicisation of a grant system which is supposed to be undertaken on merit.

What does this mean for the government?

The fact the Audit Office has made this finding is important. But what happens now and what will the consequences be? Will there be an investigation? If so, by whom?

Importantly, the Audit Office is an independent body. In the absence of a federal integrity commission, it has a significant role to play in ensuring government funds are spent for proper purposes. A central part of the role of the Audit Office is to uncover and report on fraud and corruption in government decisions. But it does not have coercive powers and its report does not have any direct legal effect on Senator McKenzie.

If there is to be a further investigation of this matter, it’s likely to be taken up by a parliamentary forum such as Senate Estimates. What is more significant are the consequences of the Audit report.

Legal consequences

The first point to understand is that the direct legal consequences of the Audit Office finding are minimal. The report made four recommendations for future reform of the sporting grant procedure. While the Audit Office is very well-regarded by decision makers and commands respect, it is not a court. Therefore its recommendations are not binding and can be ignored by government.

What is more significant are the legal implications of the Audit report.

Here the problem is the Audit Office found the minister did not have legal authority to approve the grants in the first place. This is because the legal power to approve the sporting grants is actually given to Sport Australia (under the Australian Sports Commission Act 1989).

That legislation says the minister can give written directions to Sport Australia in relation to the exercise of its powers. But Senator McKenzie actually made the decisions on the grants (rather than merely give written directions to Sport Australia).

This is, however, somewhat of a theoretical argument as it is unlikely anyone will be able to bring this matter to court to invalidate the grant decisions made. Given community sporting groups who were disadvantaged by the improper grant process are community groups in need of funding, it’s unlikely they will be in a position to bring an expensive legal action.

Political consequences

It’s therefore likely the consequences of this report will be political rather than legal.

Here the political convention of “ministerial responsibility” should, ideally, come into play. This gives effect to the broader principle that the Australian people give authority and power to elected politicians and those politicians must be accountable for their actions.

This means McKenzie could be asked to resign. However, the Senator has indicated she will not resign, saying “no rules were broken” and she was given discretionary powers “for a purpose” in the program’s guidelines.

And this is one of the problems with ministerial responsibility today: it largely depends on whether the relevant party feel it’s politically necessary to pressure the relevant minister to stand down.

The current strength of this principle in modern Australia has been questioned, with many saying it’s no longer effective. For instance, journalist Tony Wright wrote in 2019:

Ministerial responsibility in Canberra appears to have all but decayed to no responsibility.

So, there may be no political consequences in this matter at all.

Implications for Australian democracy

The Audit Office of Australia is a respected, independent institution and its findings this week should have consequences.

Trust in government, which should be central to a healthy democracy, is at an historical low in Australia. Governments need to make decisions which are transparent and fair. A government that bends the rules is a danger to the rule of law and to democracy.The Conversation

Maria O’Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Johnson’s thumping win an electoral lesson in not just having policies, but knowing how to sell them



With Johnson’s crushing win, Brexit will now happen. But this may also be the start of the break-up of the UK.
AAP/EPA/Vickie Flores

Simon Tormey, University of Bristol

So for all the talk of narrowing polls, tactical voting, and possible shocks leading to a hung parliament, Boris Johnson achieved a crushing victory over Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in the UK’s general election of 2019. With an 80 or so seat majority in the House of Commons, Johnson can now deliver on his core promise to “get Brexit done”.

He can also shape the broader social and economic environment in tune with the instincts of those around him. They are, almost to a man and a woman, hard-right libertarian figures with a barely concealed contempt for the welfare state, the National Health Service, social benefits and all the other elements that compose the post-war consensus.

One of the tricks Johnson managed to pull off in this election was to paint himself as a saviour of public services, and and a leader untarnished by ten years of Tory austerity policies. The British public is in for a rude awakening when it finds out Johnson’s brand of rambling One Nation populism was a cover for a much tougher and more conservative agenda than many voters realise.




Read more:
What kind of Brexit will Britain now ‘get done’ after Boris Johnson’s thumping election win?


So the puzzle that many commentators are trying to figure out is how it is that a right wing figure of this kind could get one over on Corbyn who pitched his entire campaign on the promise to protect the health service and promote public ownership of key sectors such as the railways and the post office?

What became clear as the night unfolded is that former Labour constituencies in the Midlands and the north of the country have been, and still are, in favour of Brexit. Johnson promised to get Brexit done, and Labour did not. For much of the electorate, this was enough of a reason to cross well established political divides and tribal loyalties.

But it’s also clear that many voters didn’t trust Jeremy Corbyn. They saw him as too beholden to sectional interests, too evasive, too metropolitan and too left wing. Johnson, by contrast, came across as a capable if lovably bumbling figure who was able to articulate not only a clear line on Brexit, but also to distance himself from the legacy of destructive Tory policies. In the end it was Corbyn, not Johnson, who proved to be political Vegemite.




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Boris Johnson, ‘political Vegemite’, becomes the UK prime minister. Let the games begin


This proved a winning formula across England and most of Wales. But elsewhere, the story was rather different. In Scotland, the Nationalists improved their result from 2017, often at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, and indeed the latter’s leader Jo Swinson, who lost her seat to the Scottish National Party (SNP).

This sets up an important byline for 2020 which is the matter of Scottish independence. With Brexit now almost certain to go forward at the end of January 2020, the pressure will immediately mount to allow Scotland to have another independence vote on the back of the SNP’s crushing performance.

The Scottish National Party’s strong performance, led by Nicola Sturgeon, will lead to a push for independence vote.
AAP/EPA/Robert Perry

While the picture is less clear in Northern Ireland, the overall trend was towards increased support for the nationalist parties at the expense in particular of the Democratic Unionist Party, which similarly lost its parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds.

While the dynamics in Northern Ireland are quite different from those of Scotland, the realisation that Brexit will now take place is bound to provoke a sustained debate on the need for a border poll on the future of Northern Ireland itself. This may take some years to resolve, but the line of travel is becoming clearer, and it points towards the reunification of Ireland. Johnson’s triumph may thus herald the break-up of the UK – to be greeted, it seems, by English indifference.

But the clearest takeaway remains the state of progressive politics in the UK. The centrist Liberal Democrat party had a very bad election. The Green party managed to increase its share of the vote but only managed to win one seat. The Labour Party was sent packing in many of its traditional working class heartlands in the North.

As long as progressive and left politics is spread amongst these various parties, it seems unlikely that we can expect a recovery any time soon, certainly as far as electoral politics is concerned. The Labour Party will now hunker down to decide whether it is going to row back towards the centre under a leader such as Kier Starmer, or whether it is going to maintain the more radical position associated with Corbyn, McDonnell and the Momentum faction that now dominates many local constituency parties.

With the victory of Johnson demonstrating the importance of a charismatic and effective leader, attention will turn to the next generation of Labour politicians. It is difficult at this juncture to be confident there is a serious challenger waiting in the wings of the current Labour Party who can provide an effective counterpoint to the ebullient Johnson. But it must. More of the same will not turn the tide.

The right does not have a monopoly on effective communicators and charismatic leaders. But what it does have is a keener appreciation of the dynamics of the moment: that policies do not sell themselves; they have to be sold by someone who has an ability to connect, to articulate a position that voters feel comfortable with, and which chimes with their own experience, values, hopes and fears.

Some call this populism. But the reality is simpler: this is – and always has been – the formula for winning elections. It’s a formula the left would do well to memorise.The Conversation

Simon Tormey, Professor of Politics, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sri Lanka election: will the country see a return to strongman politics?



Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the frontrunner in Sri Lanka’s presidential election, faces a lawsuit in the US for alleged extrajudicial killing and torture.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

Niro Kandasamy, University of Melbourne

Sri Lanka’s presidential election on Saturday comes at a critical time for the country. The government has been in turmoil since President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the prime minister last year and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, a move that sparked a three-month constitutional crisis.
Then came the Easter bombings this year that killed over 250 people, including two Australians. Sirisena was accused in a parliamentary report of “actively undermining” national security and failing to prevent the attacks.

A harsh crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority followed, including arbitrary arrests and detention, according to human rights groups, often with state complicity. Sinhalese nationalist politicians have also been blamed for injecting

new energy into long-standing efforts to undermine the status and prosperity of the Muslim community.

Sirisena, who is not seeking re-election, has not fulfilled many of the election promises he made four years ago. He ran on issues of economic reform and achieving lasting peace on the island following its long-running civil war. But today, Sri Lanka is still very much a divided nation.




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Another Rajapaksa back in office

A record 35 candidates are running for president in the upcoming election. Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the opposition party SLPP is favoured to win.

Gotabaya is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and served in his decade-long administration as defence secretary. Under their watch, the government became increasingly authoritarian and was blamed by the minority Tamils and Muslims for political violence and repression.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has been tipped as a possible prime minister in his brother’s government.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

However, among the Sinhalese majority, Gotabaya is a national hero for orchestrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers rebel group in 2009 and bringing an end to the 26-year-long armed conflict.

Gotabaya’s popularity increased significantly following the Easter Sunday terror attacks, thanks to his aggressive stance on terrorism and national security. He is viewed by many Sinhalese as a strongman similar to his brother, who can guarantee their safety and produce economic growth.

However, Gotabaya remains deeply unpopular among the Tamil and Muslim communities, as well as some Sinhalese critics.




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Sri Lanka has a history of conflict, but the recent attacks appear different


The United Nations has accused Gotabaya’s military of committing numerous abuses in the final stages of the civil war, including torture, extrajudicial killings and repeated shelling in the no-fire zone.

Earlier this year, Gotabaya was sued in the US for authorising the extrajudicial killing of a prominent journalist and the torture of an ethnic Tamil. The lawsuit also includes allegations of rape, torture and brutal interrogations in army camps and police stations between 2008 and 2013.

Gotabaya has dismissed all the allegations against him as “baseless” and “politically motivated”.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has also repeatedly denied that his government was responsible for civilian deaths during the end of the war. If elected, Gotabaya said he would not honour an agreement the government made with the UN to investigate alleged war crimes.

According to some UN estimates, around 100,000 people were killed in the civil war, though a later UN report said 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months alone.

The UN has noted that only a proper investigation can lead to an accurate figure for the total number of deaths.

Supporters of Gotabaya Rajapaksa gather at an election rally in Jaffna.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

For nearly 1,000 days now, the Tamil families of those who disappeared at the end of the civil war have staged a protest to demand the government provide information about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

If Gotabaya wins the election, it will do little to ease the longstanding grievances of the island’s Tamil people, let alone the escalating tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim community.




Read more:
Explainer: Why Sri Lanka is sliding into political turmoil, and what could happen next


His main contender, Sajith Premadasa, is the son of another former president, Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-93). He has been promising a social revolution that includes everything from eliminating poverty to universal health care to tax concessions for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Premadasa has also promised to ramp up national security, including through the appointment of Sarath Fonseka as the head of national security.

Fonseka was the army chief during the end of the civil war. In 2011, Mahinda Rajapaksa jailed Fonseka for suggesting that Gotabaya had ordered all Tamil Tiger leaders to be killed and not allowed to surrender. Sirisena ordered him to be released when he took power.

What does the election mean for Australia relations?

A Gotabaya presidency is unlikely to change the deepening relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka. Labor and Coalition governments have pursued better relations with both the Rajapaksa and Sirisena governments following the end of the war.

However, the cooperation between the two countries will become harder to justify if Gotabaya wins the election, given the allegations he faces of war crimes.

Recent years have seen a closer strategic alignment between the countries, given Sri Lanka’s pivotal position in the Indian Ocean and China’s increasing presence in the region.

Australia gave two offshore patrol vessels to Sri Lanka in 2014, and this year, sent 1,200 ADF personnel to take part in a joint taskforce in Sri Lanka – the largest-ever defence engagement between the countries.

If Australia wants to continue to position itself as a leader of democratic values, it needs to play a greater role in facilitating lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

There is an opportunity for Australia to challenge the next president of Sri Lanka to address the real concerns facing minority groups on the island, not least because they continue to seek safety and protection in Australia.The Conversation

Niro Kandasamy, Tutor, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nuance and nostalgia: Labor’s election review provides useful insights and inevitable harking back to Hawke


Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

The media have been itching for a report that blamed Labor’s defeat on a dud leader. But the Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, chaired by former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, is proportionate in the blame it sends Bill Shorten’s way. Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to Labor’s defeat, but there were wider problems that cannot be put down to leadership alone.

The review is a nuanced account of why Labor lost. Its brief explanation for that loss – a combination “of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader” – belies the sophistication of the report as whole.




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Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done


The document does better than most post-election analysis that has so far come from within the party. Some of this has been so tendentious and self-serving that its value in either explaining what went wrong or in pointing a way forward has been close to nil.

The review suggests that central to the party’s failure was that it did not reassess its approach adequately when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull. Rhetoric that might have made sense when the Liberal Party was being led by “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, as well as proposing business tax cuts, made rather less sense once the “daggy suburban dad” in the baseball cap was in charge.

Labor made too little of the chaos in the Coalition. Instead, the ALP made itself the issue at the election, a kind of government-in-waiting with a target on its back.

University-educated voters in the southern states, when they tuned in to Morrison, might have heard a sound something like the air escaping from a whoopee cushion. And such voters swung to the Labor Party in the election.

But voters in the suburbs and the regions, especially in Queensland, liked what they saw. So did professing Christians, who liked it even more when they saw photos of the devout believer at prayer, right arm pointing to heaven.

Christian voters swung behind the devout Scott Morrison in the 2019 election.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

On the other hand, many voters saw a danger to their already insecure lives in Labor’s multitude of expensive promises – and the taxation changes proposed to pay for them. They believed Morrison when he warned them of the risks of voting Labor.

Then there was coal. The authors of the report do seem to struggle with Adani. Like just about everyone else, they know it’s a financial and environmental mess. But in terms of electoral politics, Adani is radioactive.

Labor suffered in Queensland and the Hunter Valley as a result of its ambiguity, but the authors are silent on what the party could have done differently. If it had been less ambiguous about Adani, it would have needed to take a stand. But what should that stand have been?

The report is insistent that Labor should not alienate progressive and well-educated voters for whom climate change matters a lot and Adani is toxic. But how can it avoid their alienation while also pleasing economically insecure voters in Queensland? Is this simply a matter of finessing one’s language, or do the problems run deeper?

This is perhaps the report’s weakness. It is good at setting out the kinds of dilemmas Labor faces, which the party failed to grapple with at the 2019 election. It bemoans the party’s tendency to become the vehicle for various interests with diverse grievances, at the expense of serving the needs of economically insecure working-class voters. The habit of trying to serve too many masters multiplies policies and increases the complexity of campaign messaging, while undermining the party’s ability to craft a coherent story based on the party’s “core values”.

Yet the report has little to say on what such a narrative would look like or what those core values actually are. We are told the latter include:

improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment.

But there is nothing much here that would prompt an undecided voter to look to Labor rather than the Coalition, especially if they like the look of the Coalition’s leader better than Labor’s – as most did in 2019.

And then, when the review tries to set out what a “persuasive growth story” might look like, we are treated to the usual history lesson on the Hawke and Keating governments, whose “whole economic strategy” was about promoting “growth, and through it, jobs” (otherwise known as “jobs and growth”). For the Labor Party, it seems, it’s always 1983. We just need to find the winged keel to get us home.

Rather as the Hawke and Keating governments did, the review pushes any idea of redistribution, or of reducing inequality, to the very margins of Labor philosophy and policy. Indeed, the hosing down of such aspirations – modest as they were at the 2019 election – may well help to explain one of the strangest silences in the report: its failure to deal with the role of the Murdoch press.

The Murdoch media didn’t merely favour the government over the opposition. It campaigned vigorously for the return of the Coalition. And it is a vast empire, with a monopoly through much of regional Queensland, for instance. It is hard not to see in the review’s silence on this matter a clearing of the way for a future kissing of the ring of the familiar kind.

Still, there is much that is valuable in the review. There is its frank criticism of the deficiencies in the Labor Party’s strategising and the incoherence of its campaign organisation. There is the news that the party’s own internal data pointed to the possibility of the catastrophe that ultimately occurred – polling outside the party prompted a misreading of the readily available evidence.




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The review is also particularly good on the damaging effects of Clive Palmer’s massive advertising splurge. And it makes a fair attempt to relate the Labor Party’s problems to wider international trends, such as the decline of trust, the insecurity of working life for many, the crisis of social democracy, and the search for convenient scapegoats – all of which have undermined the position of parties of reform.

Best of all, the review spares us a lot of rubbish about moving the party to the centre, or the right. It does make much of the need for Labor to reinvigorate its appeal to those groups who seem to have been most alienated at the 2019 election.

It recognises – correctly in my view – that Labor’s position on Adani performed unfortunate symbolic work, suggesting to people especially in parts of Queensland “that Labor did not value them or the work they do”.

But when your primary vote in Queensland is tracking at about 25% and you hold fewer than a quarter of the lower-house seats in that state and Western Australia combined, you probably don’t need a review to tell you something has to change.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done



Bill Shorten may or may not have been able to beat Malcolm Turnbull, but the review makes it clear the ALP failed to adapt to a new, tactically-astute prime minister.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The messages for next time from Labor’s 2019 election post-mortem are clear. Have a better strategy. Have a stronger narrative, fewer policies, greater emphasis on economic growth. Have a better leader.

Obvious. Incontestable. Just, as a package, devilishly hard to achieve.

The review by Labor elders Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson identifies the plethora of reasons for Labor’s unanticipated failure. It doesn’t pull punches and contains sensible recommendations.

But no prescribed remedies can guarantee success, in a game where how the other side operates is as important – and can be more so – than what your side does. And that’s apart from the general climate of the times, these days characterised by uncertainty and distrust.

Political success comes from judgement and planning, but there’s also the lottery element. We’ll never know whether Bill Shorten could have beaten Malcolm Turnbull if he’d still been the prime minister in May. Turnbull would say no. Many of the Liberals who ditched Turnbull would say yes. Everyone would agree with the review’s conclusion that Labor failed to adapt when it suddenly faced a new, tactically-astute Liberal PM.

The review’s release was much anticipated, as though it marks a watershed. It doesn’t. It’s sound, well and thoroughly prepared. But it was never going to say how policies should be recast. It leaves the hard work still to be done, and that will be painful and prolonged.

While there’s been much emphasis on Labor’s big taxing policies, the review stresses they were driven by the ALP opting for big spending.

It says “the size and complexity” of the ALP’s spending promises – more than $100 billion – “drove its tax policies and exposed Labor to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor has long believed in both the policy desirability and the political attractiveness of large dollops of money for education and health in particular.

Beyond a certain point, however, the value of ever more dollars becomes questionable, on both policy and political grounds. Is the community, for example, getting the return it should for the funds put into schools over the past decade?

One can assume – and Anthony Albanese is signalling – Labor will throw around fewer dollars next time.

The review doesn’t target the controversial policies on negative gearing and franking credits. But they’ll be watered down or dumped.

Albanese, speaking to the National Press Club on Friday, said of the franking credits policy: “When you’ve got to explain dividend imputation and franking credits from opposition – tough ask”. He recounted talking to a pensioner worried about the policy – although pensioners would have been exempted and she’d never owned a share in her life.

The franking policy should have had a protection built in to avoid hitting genuinely low-income retirees while still catching wealthy people who’d rearranged their affairs to have little or no income. Shorten was advised to change it, but refused. On Thursday he said “were the universe to grant reruns” he would “take a different position on franking credits”.

It will be a lot easier for Labor to deal with these tax measures than with climate policy.

The review says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability. Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil-fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

Indeed. The summary just highlights the complexities for Labor in working out its revised climate policy.

Anthony Albanese has already put the policy, whatever its detail, into a framework of its potential for job creation as the energy mix moves to renewables.

It’s part of his broader emphasis on jobs and growth (accompanied by his pursuit of improved relations with business, never again to be labelled “the big end of town”).

It’s possible increasing public worry about climate change could help Labor at the next election, if the government’s response is seen as inadequate. That won’t, however, make it any less imperative for the ALP to have a better pitched policy than its 2019 election one, which was too ambitious, lacked costings, and was conflicted on coal.

This segues into Labor’s problem juggling its “progressive” supporters with its working class suburban base, to say nothing of those in coal areas. Taking one line in the south and another in the north didn’t work. The unpalatable truth may be these constituencies are actually not reconcilable, but Labor has to find more effective ways to deal with the clash.

Notably, the review points to the risk of Labor “becoming a grievance-based organisation”. “Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests,” it says.

This is an important warning in an era of identity politics. But again, Labor is in a difficult position, because its commitment to rights, non-discrimination and similar values will mean it attracts certain groups and has to be concerned with their problems. It’s a matter of balance, and not letting itself become hostage.

Grievance politics, looked at through a positive lens, is a way of identifying wrongs and injustices and seeking to rectify them. But it is also in part a reflection of the wider negativity infecting contemporary politics, amplified by today’s media.

That culture can add to the problems of a centre left party trying to sell an alternative.

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler recently noted that on the three post-war occasions when Labor won from opposition, it had immensely popular leaders (Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd), visions for the nation and superior campaigns.

Whitlam sold a sweeping new program in tune with the changing times. Hawke promoted “reconciliation, recovery and reconstruction”. Rudd was welcomed as a fresh face embracing concern about climate change. Albanese has boldly dubbed a series of his speeches (the first already delivered) “vision statements”. But “vision” is an elusive elixir, apparently harder than ever to come by.

Winning from opposition is a struggle for Labor. This makes it crucial to have a leader who can both reassure and inspire swinging voters. Unfortunately out-of-the box leaders don’t come often; in reality, a party has to work with what it has got.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump could win again despite losing popular vote, as Biden retakes lead in Democratic polls



Despite poor polling and an impeachment inquiry, Donald Trump has a reasonable chance of being elected again.
AAP/EPA/Mark Lyons

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A year away from the November 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump has a 41.4% approval, 54.6% disapproval rating with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate. His net approval is -13.2%, down 0.8% since my October 10 article.




Read more:
Trump’s ratings slightly down after Ukraine scandal as Warren surges to tie Biden in Democratic polls


With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s approval is 42.4% and his disapproval 54.6%, for a net approval of -12.2%, down 0.7% since October 10.

In the FiveThirtyEight tracker, 47.5% support actually removing Trump from office by impeachment and 45.7% are opposed (47.4-44.7 support four weeks ago).

On October 31, the Democrat-controlled House officially voted to begin an impeachment inquiry by 232-196. As I said previously, while the house will very probably impeach Trump, the Senate is very unlikely to reach the two-thirds majority required to remove him.

In national general election polling against the three leading Democrats, Trump trails Joe Biden by 10.2% in the RealClearPolitics average (7.4% on October 10). He trails Elizabeth Warren by 7.3% (4.5% previously) and Bernie Sanders by 7.9% (5.2%).

How the Electoral College could save Trump again

To win the presidency, a candidate needs at least 270 Electoral College votes. The 538 total Electoral Votes (EVs) are apportioned winner-takes-all by state with two minor exceptions. Each state’s EVs is the sum of its house seats (population-based) and senators (always two).

While Trump’s national ratings and general election match-ups are poor, a poll of the six closest 2016 Trump states gives him a real chance. In this Siena College poll for The New York Times of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, Trump trails Biden by two points overall, is tied with Sanders and leads Warren by two.

In 2016, Trump won these six states collectively by two points. Despite losing the national popular vote by 2.1%, Trump exceeded the magic 270 Electoral Votes when he won Wisconsin by 0.8%, so the difference between the national vote and the “tipping-point” state was 2.9%.




Read more:
US 2016 election final results: how Trump won


Trump’s 2016 win was a result of strong backing from non-college educated whites, who make up a large share of the population in the mid-west. This poll suggests Trump’s support is holding up with non-college whites. The Democratic vote could be more inefficiently distributed than in 2016.

I do not believe there will be an eight-point difference between the national vote and battleground states, which this poll suggests when compared with current national polls. The Siena poll was taken October 13-25, a better time for Trump nationally. It may also be Republican-leaning.

US economy still good

In the September quarter, US GDP grew at a 1.9% annualised pace. The US reports its quarterly GDP rates as if that quarter’s GDP was the rate for the whole year. To convert to Australian-style GDP rates, divide by four, which means US GDP grew almost 0.5% in the September quarter. This growth rate is moderate. In the June quarter, GDP was up 2.0% annualised.

In the October US jobs report, 128,000 jobs were created and the unemployment rate was 3.6% (up 0.1% since September, but still very low historically). The participation rate increased 0.1% to 63.3% and the employment population ratio was steady at 61.0% – matching September’s highest since December 2008.

In the year to October, hourly wages grew 3.0%, while inflation increased 1.7% in the year to September, so real wages increased 1.3%.

These two economic reports are good news for Trump. If the economy was all-important, Trump would be a clear favourite for re-election. But Trump’s general behaviour has angered many who might otherwise have voted for him based on economic factors.

Trump will need the economy to stay strong until November 2020 to have a realistic chance. It is likely a weak economy is the only thing that would shake Trump’s support with non-college whites.

Biden retakes lead in Democratic polls

Three weeks after the October 15 Democratic debate, Biden leads with 29.7% in the RealClearPolitics average of national Democratic polls, followed by Warren at 20.8%, Sanders at 17.8% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.7%. Nobody else has more than 4%. In the past four weeks, Warren has lost votes to Sanders and Buttigieg, owing perhaps to her difficulties with the Medicare for All policy.

We are now three months away from the first Democratic contest: the February 3 Iowa caucus. In Iowa, Warren has 22.3%, Buttigieg has surged to 17.0%, Biden has 15.7% and Sanders 15.3%. In New Hampshire (February 11), the one poll conducted since the October debate gives Sanders 21%, Warren 18%, Biden 15% and Buttigieg 10%.

Two recent polls in Nevada (February 22) give Biden an eight or ten point lead over Warren. Biden still has a large lead in South Carolina (February 29).




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


The next Democratic debate will be held November 20 with qualifying criteria increased from October; nine candidates have qualified so far. The qualifying criteria will be increased again for the December 19 debate; five candidates have qualified for that debate.

UK general election: December 12

After failing to win parliamentary approval for his Brexit deal in time for the October 31 exit date, Prime Minister Boris Johnson won House of Commons backing for a December 12 election on October 29. The European Union had extended the Brexit deadline to January 31 at parliament’s request.

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on October 29 that Labour’s chances of winning will improve if they can make the election a referendum on Boris Johnson’s deal, which has plenty to attack from a left-wing perspective. Leave was helped by being undefined at the 2016 Brexit referendum, now it is defined.

Canada and other elections

I live-blogged the October 21 Canadian election for The Poll Bludger, in which the centre-left Liberals won a second term, but lost their majority. I also covered the Argentine and Polish elections for The Poll Bludger: a centre-left presidential candidate won in Argentina, and the Law and Justice party retained its lower house majority in Poland.

On my personal website, I wrote about the Greens’ surge at the October 20 Swiss election, where a unique system of executive government is used. Also covered: the left-wing Bolivian president was re-elected for a fourth successive term, the far-right dominated Hungarian local elections despite a setback in Budapest, and the far-right surged in German and Italian October 27 state elections.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In the latest Australian Newspoll, conducted October 17-20 from a sample of 1,634, the Coalition led by 51-49, unchanged since late September. Primary votes were also unchanged, with the Coalition on 42%, Labor 33%, Greens 13% and One Nation 6%.

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +2, down two points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was -7, down six points. Morrison led Albanese by 47-32 (50-31 previously). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

This Newspoll was the fourth consecutive Newspoll with the Coalition ahead by 51-49. Newspoll’s lack of volatility probably contributed to the poll failure at the May federal election, but this does not appear to have changed.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s election post-mortem warns against ‘becoming a grievance-based organisation’



Former minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill have pinpointed key weaknesses in Labor’s 2019 election strategy.
AAP/Julian Smith

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The long-awaited ALP campaign review says Labor lost “because of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader”.

“No one of these shortcomings was decisive but in combination they explain the result,” says the report from former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.

While it says Labor’s big tax policies didn’t cause the defeat, the size and complexity of its spending plans “drove its tax policies” exposing it “to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor failed to “craft a simple narrative” bringing together its policies, the reviews says.

Its analysis is damning while seeking to be positive for the future, at a time when the ALP remains in shock at its unexpected loss and divided and uncertain about the way forward.

Looking ahead, the report says “policies can be bold but should form part of a coherent Labor story, be limited in number and be easily explainable, making them less capable of misrepresentation”.

“Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and job creation. Labor should adopt the language of inclusion, recognising the contribution of small and large businesses to economic prosperity, and abandon derogatory references to ‘the big end of town’.”

The report’s emphasis on the importance of Labor tapping into economic growth and being attuned to business reflects the direction in which Anthony Albanese has been seeking to take the party since becoming leader.

The criticism of the “top end of town” language is a direct slap at the rhetoric of Bill Shorten.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Just ahead of the report’s release, Shorten said in a Thursday statement that “were the universe to grant reruns” he would have fewer campaign messages, put more emphasis on the opportunities provided by renewable energies, and take a different position on franking credits.

He also said he should have promised bigger immediate tax cuts for working people.

Shorten reiterated his intention to remain in politics for the next 20 years.

The report warns that “care needs to be taken to avoid Labor becoming a grievance-based organisation,” saying it “has been increasingly mobilised to address the political grievances of a vast and disparate constituency”.

“Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests.

“A grievance-based approach can create a culture of moving from one issue to the next, formulating myriad policies in response to a broad range of concerns.”

Addressing the swing against the ALP by low-income workers, the report says the party’s “ambiguous language on Adani, combined with some anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley.”

In contrast, higher-income urban voters worried about climate change moved to Labor, despite the potential impact on them of the opposition’s tax policies.

Labor lost some Christian voters, “particularly devout, first-generation migrant Christians”, but the review does not find that people of faith in general deserted Labor.

The review does not believe Labor’s values – “improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment – were the problem at the election, and says Labor should retain its commitment to these values.

“Labor’s policy formulation should be guided by the national interest, avoiding any perception of capture by special interest groups.”

As a debate has raged within the ALP on how Labor should reshape its climate change policy, and notably its targets, the report says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability.

“Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

The report says that high expectations of victory caused Labor incorrectly to assume it had a stronger campaign machine and better digital capacity than the Coalition. It also led to “little consideration being given to querying Labor’s strategy and policy agenda”.

Following Clive Palmer’s huge advertising blitz, the review urges caps on spending by high wealth individuals. Also, influenced by the scare campaign that wrongly asserted Labor had in mind a death tax, the review said the issue of truth in advertising should be looked at.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The UK’s 2019 election cannot be a re-run of the 2017 campaign


Christopher Kirkland, York St John University

The UK is due to go to the polls on December 12 in an attempt to overcome parlaiment’s impasse over Brexit. Given the latest missed deadline of October 31, it seems inevitable that Brexit will dominate this campaign. Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are blaming parliament for blocking the passage of a Brexit agreement. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are highlighting the dangers of Johnson’s deal, as well as pointing out that the government pulled the deal before parliament could vote on it, somewhat undermining the idea that MPs have blocked it.

While politicians may be keen to offer such narratives, voters may – and indeed should – express different priorities. They should ask more of candidates than a simple re-run of either the 2016 referendum or the 2017 general election, both of which have been unable to deliver change.

Politicians can help this by ensuring that debating Brexit does not come at the expense of other topics. To achieve that, the narrative on the biggest issue of the day needs to be focused and specific so that it is less likely to sprawl out and dominate everything. If politicians can do this then we can begin to talk about other issues.

Even if a new government were to agree a deal quickly and get it through the new parliament in time for the January 31 deadline, that would not be the end of the story. After the deal passes, the UK will enter a transition period with a new deadline of December 31 2020. Any agreements made here will set out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. This will be much more difficult to negotiate than the current withdrawal agreement (not least as this agreement will encompass far more than the current withdrawal agreement).

It seems remote to suggest that the future relationship – something more complex than the process of leaving – can be negotiated any quicker than the withdrawal agreement. Bearing in mind there already been two and a half years of negotiations up to now, it is likely that these negotiations will consume most of the time afforded to the next parliament. They may not even be completed before the next election in 2024.

Hopes are not plans

One problem is that without knowing when or how the big Brexit issues will be resolved, the debate can only revolve around abstract ideas. This was a key problem in the original Brexit campaign. Important questions could be left unanswered because so much was unknown. At times, voters were even fed misinformation.

One function of an election is to hold incumbent governments and MPs to account – and in order to do this in the future, greater attention needs to be placed on demanding politicians present feasible policy suggestions rather than chasing fanciful ideas.

We should be wary of MPs or candidates who appear able to promise a range of options to different (sub-groups of) voters. Even in the early stages of the campaign we can see divergence between those advocating a form of Brexit. Johnson is promoting his deal and new deadline of 31 January 2020, while Nigel Farage, at the launch of the Brexit Party, criticised the deal and suggested a further extension to July 2020 could be possible.

Here it is important to note the language used on the campaign trail. What a party hopes to achieve in Brexit negotiations is not necessarily the same as what they can achieve. They may not even have control over the things they are promising. Remember any deal (including any alterations or new deals) will have to be signed off by the EU.

The domestic agenda

Even if we accept the narrative that Brexit can be “resolved” in the next parliament, the question then left is what comes next? What are the post-Brexit plans? Any aspiring government simply cannot wait until the end of Brexit to start implementing policies. Parliament has been bogged down by Brexit ever since Article 50 was triggered in 2017 and has carried only a fraction of the amount of work it might otherwise.

Candidates in the elections could help to offer some reassurances about Brexit by talking about other policy areas too. A government looking to hold office until May 2024 will need to address environmental changes, the future of the union, the legacy of austerity and plans for reigniting the economy, as well as traditionally salient issues such as welfare (including the NHS) and education.

Clarity on domestic policies will also have the effect of reassuring voters who are worried by the different permutations that Brexit may offer. And such clarity could, in turn, help to mitigate some of the economic risks associated with Brexit. If we can’t be sure about what will happen after Brexit, a party hoping to reach government could at least offer stability on other matters.The Conversation

Christopher Kirkland, Lecturer in Politics, York St John University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Boris Johnson sends UK voters to the polls, hoping for the ‘right’ kind of Brexit. But it just might backfire


Simon Tormey, University of Bristol

And so the UK will head to an election on December 12 to try to resolve the spectacular mess that is Brexit. It’s an outcome many of us had been predicting for some time.




Read more:
UK general election is on: how it happened and what to expect now


The only surprise is that it came about as it did. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has, after all, just managed what seemed nearly impossible a mere few weeks back, which is to both achieve a compromise agreement with the European Union over the terms of withdrawal and convince the House of Commons that it should vote in favour of it, and by a princely majority of 30.

So why did Johnson seek an election? And why, at the third attempt, did Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agree? More generally, will an election get us out of the royal mess the UK finds itself in?

It’s not if you Brexit, but how

As far as Johnson is concerned, he wants Brexit, but he doesn’t want any old Brexit. He wants a “proper” Brexit, a clean break from the EU that will, as his mantra insists, deliver the UK the ability to negotiate its own trade deals.

The only way Johnson can do that is by differentiating between the trade regime for Northern Ireland and for the rest of the UK. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) doesn’t like it. Most of the House of Commons doesn’t like it.

So rather than try to push through an agreement that would be sliced and diced on its way through the House of Commons until it was no longer recognisable as Brexit, Johnson prefers to roll the dice and trust the instincts of the electorate to deliver a larger majority. This will in turn permit him to ignore the DUP and isolate the softer elements of his own parliamentary party, assuming they haven’t been deselected in the run-up to the election.

What’s in it for Labour?

Why did Corbyn agree after turning down an election three times in recent weeks?

He didn’t want an election with the threat of a no-deal October 31 deadline. With an agreement in place with the EU for the terms of the UK’s exit, the objection is no longer valid.

Corbyn may be 15 or so points behind in the polls, but he was over 20 points down in the polls against Theresa May in 2017, and what happened? Labour fought an excellent campaign and shredded May’s majority to the point where her premiership became defunct.

He feels he can do this again running on a platform against austerity and inequality.

He may be right. This election is difficult to call, not least because of Labour’s own position on Brexit, which is a nuanced one, to put it mildly. Its pitch is that a Labour government will renegotiate the only-just-renegotiated withdrawal agreement and put the deal to the people in another referendum.

So they think they can do better than Johnson as far as negotiating with the EU is concerned, but they’re not prepared to campaign in favour of what it is they renegotiate. Let’s just say the subtlety of that position may be lost on some parts of the electorate.

Minor parties will play a major role

But this isn’t going to be a contest of Labour versus the Conservatives. There are new elements in the mix and some more familiar ones to make it even harder to see through the darkened glass.

The new elements are Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party standing for an even cleaner and harder Brexit than Johnson’s. There is also the Liberal Democrats, who have repositioned themselves under new leader Jo Swinson as a remain party – not a referendum party, but an out and out remain party. With around 50% of the electorate favouring remain over any iteration of Brexit, this is fertile soil for creating upsets in marginal seats, perhaps even Johnson’s own.

The more familiar elements that complicate matters further are the regional parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Welsh voted to leave in 2016, but with a patrician Tory in No. 10, will they back leave parties in the election? It has to be doubtful.

The remainer Scottish National Party (SNP) will no doubt do very well in Scotland. Northern Ireland may lean even more heavily to remain parties in the knowledge that unionism was sold out in Johnson’s compromise with the EU.

So what’s going to happen?

The honest answer is no one knows. Party loyalties will be near irrelevant in what is being billed as the “Brexit election”.

The one constant in all this is that the country remains as deeply split as it was in 2016. No big swings in opinion have taken place to suggest a clear victory is likely for either remain or leave-backing political parties. And there are narratives around austerity and inequality that may play out strongly, as they did in 2017.




Read more:
Boris Johnson, ‘political Vegemite’, becomes the UK prime minister. Let the games begin


A hung parliament is, it would seem, the most likely destination. If it is, then what of Brexit? In this scenario, Brexit continues to be what it has been for the past three years, a kind of impossible object of desire: elusive, divisive, polarising.

Many pundits seem to think Johnson is a shoo-in for a majority and will therefore get his Brexit. But don’t be so sure.

Remainer forces are buoyant that they will in effect get a chance to rerun the 2016 referendum. They will be better organised and more focused on the possibilities for tactical voting presented by a single-issue election.

There is a chance – just a chance – that far from smoothing the UK’s exit from the EU, the election blows up in Johnson’s face and delivers a remain parliament.The Conversation

Simon Tormey, Professor of Politics, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.